Four years on, a look at Galwan and beyond - Hindustan Times
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Four years on, a look at Galwan and beyond

BySriparna Pathak
Jun 15, 2024 09:53 AM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak.

June 15 marks the fourth year of the Galwan Valley clash between India and China. Since 2020, a lot has happened between India and China, except for a restoration of order as it existed at the borders before June 15, 2020. While a lot has been written and discussed on the status of the border, it remains pertinent to take stock of what has happened between India and China, particularly in the context of the conflict to understand if a resolution can ever be expected in the near future. Immediately after the oath-taking swearing ceremony of the elected government in India, S Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister stated that India’s focus remains on resolving the remaining issues along the India-China border. Defence minister Rajnath Singh also reaffirmed India’s government to safeguarding its borders and strengthening defence manufacturing and exports. He emphasised the priority of protecting India’s integrity and sovereignty.

Galwan Valley. (Reuters)
Galwan Valley. (Reuters)

While these statements were made immediately after the swearing-in of the re-elected government in India, it is also pertinent to take a quick look at statements made by China in 2022, after the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), when President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as the CCP general secretary and the president of China. At the Congress, he set “victory in local wars” as a goal and told the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to “improve training and preparation for war in all aspects, and to improve the ability of the army to fight and win”. Xi instructed the PLA, at the 20th Congress to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests…” While he did not mention any country by name, local for China implies issues near its own borders, and India was the only country it was in a direct military conflict with over land borders in 2022. Also, a clip of the clashes at Galwan, with the Indian Army was played at the 20th Party Congress. Xi set the tone for the future of the bilateral relationship immediately after taking charge as the third time president of China in 2022, and India reciprocated by stating the necessity to safeguarding its borders immediately after the Cabinet took charge post-elections in 2024.

Twenty-one rounds of India-China Corps commander-level meetings have taken place between the two sides, without a concrete resolution or a return to the pre-2020 position. If the failure of 21 rounds of talks is not enough to understand where China intends to take the bilateral relationship to, a few more incidents add clarity. In the Beijing Olympics in 2021, when the democratic world was boycotting the games owing to China’s human rights excesses, India sent in teams, with the plausible hopes of reining in the adversarial relationship that China had created. It was possibly hoped that sports diplomacy would create synergies and a climb down in China’s aggression against India would be witnessed. India should have boycotted the Olympics not on concerns of human rights abuses alone but also given the fact that a full-fledged conflict was on at the borders. China repaid India’s kindness by making Qi Fabao a torchbearer at the opening ceremony. Qi, a regiment commander of the PLA had fought during the Galwan Valley clashes with India in June 2020 and received a commendation for his role in the fight. It was thus clear how China sees India’s attempts to ameliorate tensions at the border.

China through its mouthpieces in the State-controlled media constantly kept stating how China does not want to engage in a competition over which side martyred more soldiers of the other side, which is why China does not release the numbers of its dead. However, at carefully thought out periods of time, China released the names of four--one by one--at different points in time, after which the Chinese social media space went into full frenzy and diatribes against India and Indians.

In December 2022, PLA troops tried to transgress the Line of Actual Control in the Yangtse area of the Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh to unilaterally change the status quo, which was contested by the Indian Army in a resolute manner. Fortunately, no casualties were reported on either side this time. In 2023, China released what it calls its standard map in which it yet again showed Indian territory as its own, which was protested by India of course. China, brushing aside India’s concerns stated that India need not read too much into it, trying to deny even the aggrieved party--India in this case--the right to feel aggrieved. China also has been on a naming spree and in 2024 released the fourth list of its own names for places in Arunachal Pradesh.

Since 2020, China at multiple levels of the leadership has stated as to how India should put the border dispute on the backburner and focus on economic ties instead, completely disregarding India’s concerns over the violation of its sovereignty. The Indian government nevertheless has stood its ground and reiterated multiple times that the relationship cannot be normal unless China moves back to its pre-2020 position on the border. The same tone of placing the blame for the souring of relations between the two, on India alone was seen in Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning’s tweet to Prime Minister Modi after election results were declared, when she wrote on X, “we look forward to a healthy and stable China-India relationship”.

During the elections in 2024, China released edited videos of the Galwan Valley clash portraying the Indian Army as losing. This was a clear-cut attempt at election interference, to portray a weak government that lost control of Indian sovereignty, to influence electoral choices.

China continues preparing for military conflicts with India and this is clear from the ‘xiaokang’ villages it has created along India’s borders, the development and construction of airports in Tibet and in the South Xinjiang region, the increase in storage facilities for military planes and equipment, hydroelectric projects, among a long list of others. The Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for China’s sovereignty along the borders with India has long-range surface-to-air-missile installations. The list of upgrades the PLA has made for being combat-ready is long and exhaustive. India has also stepped up its defences along the borders. What needs to be remembered is that while China continues with its military aggression against India, while it continues building up for further conflicts with India, it also tries to placate India from time to time, as it needs Indian markets and India as a junior and subservient partner in China’s tirades with the United States India needs to not just be militarily prepared but also understand through all that has happened in these last four years, that the relationship can never ever be truly normal.

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

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